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TCU's 2012 preview from Football Outsiders

Football Study Hall is where the Football Outsiders bring their stats-mania to college.  Here's how they rate TCU in 2011, and 2012.
Football Study Hall is where the Football Outsiders bring their stats-mania to college. Here's how they rate TCU in 2011, and 2012.
Stats nerds rejoice: Football Outsiders has chewed on TCU's 2011 numbers, and begun to make its predictions about the Horned Frogs' coming season. Perhaps no analysis better typifies the maxim, told me in Minsk by a Idahoan potato farmer, "If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance, baffle 'em with B.S.!"*

For this to make any sense, we need first to break down what the heck an F/+ rating is, and what it means. Here's the one-line version: Football Outsiders is trying to do to football what the Moneyball people did to baseball; they're creating stats that actually communicate the strength of a team. Regular football stats simply don't do this, and so Football Outsiders are on to something good. Read on, Frog fans.

*It's no joke-- I really did hear that saying from an Idahoan potato farmer in Minsk. He had many golden rhetorical tidbits, like, "If you walk a mile in another man's shoes, you're a mile away, and you have his shoes."

OK; the F/+ rating is a combination of two very separate stats, the FEI and the S&P. The what, you ask? FEI is "Fremeau Efficiency Index." A guy named Brian Fremeau analyzes thousands of college football drives every year, filtering out garbage time drives and clock-killing drives, etc. He takes the "real" drives, and figures out a national average for how likely a team is to score based on the starting yard-line for each drive. Mr. Fremeau figures out offensive and defensive averages. In his words,

"Offensive efficiency is then calculated as the total drive-ending value earned by the offenses divided by the sum of its offensive [Field Position Value] over the course of the game."

I also don't know what that really means, but offensive and defensive FEI (adjusted for the opponent's FEI) is nifty little stat.

The second component of the F/+ ranking is another combo stat, the S&P+, or a Success Rate measurement combined with a Points Per Play measurement (hence, "S&P"). The average S&P+ is 100.0. In their words,

"A boom-or-bust running back may have a strong yards per carry average and PPP, but his low Success Rate will lower his S&P. A consistent running back that gains between four and six yards every play, on the other hand, will have a strong Success Rate but possibly low PPP. The best offenses in the country can maximize both efficiency and explosiveness on a down-by-down basis. Reciprocally, the best defenses can limit both"

I do understand that; the plus sign on the S&P+ means each team's S&P score is adjusted for its opponents' strength. More opaque is the S&P+ breakdown for "standard downs" and "passing downs." The Football Outsider folks plays of certain down and distance measures to be "passing downs"-- 2nd and 8 or more, 3rd and 5 or more, and 4th and 5 or more. Some offenses don't fit this mold (like Oregon's) but TCU's probably does, as long as Mike Schultz isn't calling the plays.

So where are we-- the FEI is a measure of a team's efficiency based on field position; the S&P+ measures its success rate and explosiveness. Combine those two, and voila, you have the F/+ rating. The F/+ is Football Outsiders' best picture of, and predictor of, a team's success. For the 2005 through 2010 seasons, it was a better predictor of a college team's success than conference winning percentage, overall winning percentage, FEI by itself, and S&P+ by itself. It's the bottom line of college football stats.

And Football Outsiders has crunched TCU's 2011 drives and stats.

Last season TCU finished 17th in F/+. This is down quite a bit; in 2010 TCU finished 6th. The rise in TCU's recent F/+ ratings has been fueled by greatly increased offensive performance, while the defense has weakened in the last few years.

Football Outsiders' unofficial projection for TCU's 2012 F/+ is 21st nationally (13.9% over average).